Ambassadors’ Week – Fight against terrorism/European Union/Brexit/economic diplomacy/tourism – Speech by M. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister (Paris, 1 September 2016)


Over the years, this meeting has become a milestone at the end of the summer… It’s a pleasure for me to be here with you again, for the third year running.

A pleasure; but there’s a serious note too.

Firstly, because terrorism has struck France again – in Magnanville, Nice, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray – just as it has struck many of our partners.

A serious note, too, because faced with the huge challenges besetting it, Europe risks – if we don’t do anything – unravelling, breaking up and stepping out of history.
Finally, there’s a serious note given the crises in the Mediterranean, the Levant and Africa, which are making heavy demands on our armed forces and diplomacy. I’m thinking particularly of Gabon, where the situation may become perilous. Reason – i.e. transparency over the vote, compliance with electoral law and calming things down – must prevail over the temptation to resort to violence.

We’re at a decisive moment in our history. A moment when our country’s resilience is being put to the test. A moment when our ability to prevail will depend on our nation’s ability to stand together, to cooperate with our allies, in Europe and the rest of the world.

As the President pointed out to you the day before yesterday, our country is taking initiatives. And it will continue to do so, drawing especially on the support of all of you, who are the voice of France throughout the world.

I – Firmly deal with the terrorist threat

It’s taking initiatives, first, to wage the war which has been declared on us.
A global war – no country is safe – in a new form. A war which pits us against a new totalitarianism, that of radical Islamism, which has raised its armies, extended its grip, used its ideological apparatus and spreads death and mass terror. Its aim: to enslave bodies and minds and crush our democracies.

As I told you a year ago now, we are facing the jihadist terrorist threat.
Yes, our country must prepare itself for further attacks. Our country is a target because of what we are, our Republican model, our values, our commitment to laïcité [secularism] (1) – that uniquely French characteristic whereby everyone is free to believe or not believe –, our refusal to accept the splitting of society into communities, and our commitment in the Levant.

France must learn to live with this terrorist threat. It’s here to stay. It’s the challenge of our society, of our generation.

We’re facing a considerable challenge, with nearly 700 French jihadists, or [non-French] jihadists resident in France, currently in combat zones in Iraq and Syria. Their return poses an additional threat to our national security. One hundred and ninety-one French people have died there. Nine hundred want to go.
Talking about all these things, telling our fellow citizens the truth – which we owe them – doesn’t mean “getting used to it” or “putting up with it”. It means preparing to resist by developing a new security culture.

Our strategy against terrorism is a comprehensive one.

It’s firstly a military one, to fight the terrorist groups in their strongholds in the Sahel, Iraq and Syria.

Thanks to our armed forces, thanks to the coalition’s military strikes, Daesh [so-called ISIL] has been weakened. But the battle will be long!

This war is also being waged on our doorstep, on the other side of the Mediterranean, in Libya. And we’re continuing to fight jihadist groups in the Sahel.

Our strategy is to act, too, with the utmost determination at home: with increased human and financial resources devoted to counter-terrorism; with the laws passed since 2012 to adapt our legal arsenal to a constantly evolving threat; with all the resources the state of emergency provides us with: “administrative searches” (2), house arrests.

We’re acting to combat radicalization, thwart indoctrination strategies and detect as early as possible those individuals likely to become radicalized. To give just one figure: 14,552 people have been reported and added to the fichier des signalés pour la prévention et la radicalisation à caractère terroriste (FSPRT) (3).

In May, I presented a comprehensive action plan, with an international and European dimension to which I attach the utmost importance. I ask you to present it to the authorities of the countries in which you serve.

I would also ask you to report back to us on the initiatives implemented in your respective countries. As regards combating radicalization, we must develop cooperation and the exchange of best practice between partners. I’ve also appointed a diplomat, Muriel Domenach, to the post of Secretary-General of the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Crime and Radicalization. That sends a strong signal.
Finally, we’re acting to protect our French communities and our presence abroad, with particular emphasis on our schools. In the spring, Jean-Marc Ayrault suggested to me a plan to increase the security of our establishments. An exceptional further €60 million will thus be included in the 2017 budget. I’ve also decided to create, as early as 2017, security jobs in the Foreign Ministry to strengthen teams in embassies most at risk.

The resources dedicated to France’s security abroad will be increased whenever necessary, because we’ll never compromise on the protection of our compatriots at home or abroad.

II – Radically reforming Europe: France is taking initiatives in Europe

France is taking initiatives in Europe, too. It must, because the European Union is facing its destiny.

Through the course of its history, it has experienced many crises. But it is unprecedented that so many have accumulated and are occurring at the same time – the terrorist threat, the challenge posed by migration, the imperative for growth, the shock of Brexit. These provide rich fodder for simplistic arguments and populism.
The populism we’re seeing flourish all over Europe poses a further threat, a sword of Damocles for the European continent.

Admittedly, important decisions have been taken in the past few years. We’ve got to be fair. I’m thinking of banking union, the recovery of growth – with €15 billion of investment in France, thanks to the Juncker Plan. I’m also thinking of the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance, and the agreement reached in June to create a European border and coast guard agency.

Contrary to what we hear all too often, our country – far from losing influence – has, more often than not, been behind these decisions.

But that isn’t enough. We’ve got to acknowledge that Europe, over the past few years, has reacted rather than acted, and passively endured rather than anticipated.
Worse: the European project – everyone clearly feels this – no longer speaks to the people. They feel Europe has lost control of its borders, no longer protects its industry and has let its destiny slip from its grasp. There’s the sense that Europe somehow isn’t geared to Europeans, but to itself, and is on auto-pilot.

We must understand this profound discontent people have: they no longer recognize themselves in this Europe and don’t see what it brings them.

In view of this, let’s make no mistake about the signal the British people sent on 23 June 2016. Of course, the United Kingdom has always been unique – an “island exception” in Europe. But the referendum – which comes on top of other “noes”, in Denmark at the end of 2014, in Greece in June 2015, in the Netherlands in May this year, not to mention France in 2005 – says much more. It says something about Europe itself, and our way of building it.

Europe can’t go on as if nothing has happened, as if Brexit were basically just a hiccup, another crisis. No status quo is possible when a people decides to slam the door. We can’t go back to how things were before.

We know the path will be long, tough and sometimes confrontational. But France, a founding country of the European project along with Germany, will promote this radical reform. Our role is to show the way ahead, to offer up a new Europe to all those who want it – one which, first and foremost, brings its focus back to what matters.
The President gave you the policies France will put forward to its partners at the Bratislava summit, for security, investment and young people: I won’t go back over these.

And we must go further. Going beyond the Europe of projects, we must say what our project for Europe is. Now that everything has been said about founding principles – peace and prosperity –, we must say clearly where we’re heading and why our nations must remain committed.

We can no longer lead Europe in fits and starts, from day to day, week after week; we need to think about what we want over the long term. That’s what France has to propose today.

Our message is simple: Europe must allow our national sovereignties to be stronger together. It’s this size which enables us to carry weight when up against continent-countries and remain in control of our own history.

To achieve this, Europe must take full charge of itself. It must fully equip itself to make its voice heard. It must stop being naive. We need a strong Europe which isn’t afraid of itself. People often talk about “old Europe”… I sometimes get the feeling, on the contrary, that the EU is still too young and innocent. It must now come of age, particularly if it is to make the most of the opportunities of globalization and protect us from its excesses.

Europe must defend our interests, our economies, our workers, tooth and nail. All the countries on the planet are doing it!

This applies to protecting our factories, or our steel industry.

It applies to the transatlantic trade partnership: France, through the voice of Matthias Fekl, very clearly set out its demands from the outset. Yet when you look at how things currently stand, things fall way short, and no progress has been made! I regret it, but it’s a fact! So the text on the table is quite simply unacceptable. Our responsibility is to say so.

A stronger Europe also means having a competition policy that’s effective, but which allows our champions – in the digital sector and the energy transition – to emerge, broaden and become giants. We can’t act as though the world around us doesn’t exist. European companies must reach critical mass faced with international multinationals and international platforms! We have the skills for this!

Europe must carry out this self-examination. Moreover, the challenge isn’t solely an economic one. It’s also to do with the protection of personal data – which means not being dependent on non-European computer storage entities. Or our commitment to the energy transition – at a time when Europe today imports more than half of its energy…

A stronger Europe also means opening its companies up to a continent-wide skills base and thus continuing to defend freedom of movement – provided no fiscal and social dumping is tolerated. I’m particularly thinking of the posting of workers problem, of course. If this problem isn’t resolved, the internal market, at the heart of the European enterprise, will be in danger.

Building a new Europe also means having the courage to look at issues which we’ve swept under the carpet for too long. I’m particularly thinking about the issue of enlargement and borders. By not addressing these issues, we give succour to those people who, from dawn to dusk, complain about Europe being over-exposed. Worse, credence is given to the idea of a Europe with no borders and therefore, basically, no identity. Europe is strong when it says where its common area starts and where it stops. Europe is also strong when it proclaims its own values, a culture and a civilization rich in diversity. Let’s be proud of it!

I often say that we have the Europe we deserve! It’s up to us to work for a new Europe that changes its approach.

A Europe which stops getting lost in procedure, which stops systematically giving preference to standards over goals.

A Europe which is subject to democratic oversight, so that the people’s demand for transparency prevails.

A Europe which finally raises the issue of how it is organized politically and takes responsibility for saying that Europe isn’t about rejecting nations but, on the contrary, gives us added sovereignty, within a “federation of nation-states”, to use Jacques Delors’ phrase. In return, it must have the ability to act whenever necessary, and this depends on each member state.

This inevitably raises the question of a differentiated Europe. Moving forward with 28 members, and even 27, on every decision is very difficult. Why not start with a few, those who are ready? For some issues, this would be the only way forward – I’m thinking of the challenges of fiscal and social convergence, and the minimum wage.
On all these issues, France has specific, concrete, operational proposals, which Jean-Marc Ayrault and Harlem Désir are working on.

After the European Community, after enlargement, which allowed geography to catch up with history, we must usher in a third age in the European adventure: that of reinvention.

Without this, Europe will disappear; and because I’m profoundly European, I’ll never resign myself to seeing this. I believe, on the contrary, that the desire for Europe must be rekindled – the Europe whose values are those of all democracies, which has the ambition to be universal, reaching far beyond its borders. In the face of populism, nothing would be worse than having a timid, shameful Europe. It will need to be brave, bold and make demands. These qualities are at the heart of the European project. And France will deliver, as it always has done, by holding, as always, a constructive but clear dialogue with Germany.

III – Wholesale reform for a modern, strong France that’s proud of itself


On all these subjects, you’re going to play – you’re already doing so today – a central role.

You’ve also accomplished a great deal in terms of economic diplomacy, under the leadership of Laurent Fabius and then Jean-Marc Ayrault.

We needed to put a stop to the chorus of French-bashing that was causing us a great deal of harm. And our image improved considerably.

I ask you to continue to work tirelessly to promote a France that is striving to expand its influence, which of course involves promoting our beautiful language, spoken all over the world, and ensuring that French language and culture flourish. I know how hard André Vallini is working to that end. A France that is also striving to enhance its appeal, which is undertaking reforms, and becoming more competitive.

As you know, a lot of firms have questions in the wake of Brexit and are considering relocating their headquarters, their research centres, their production sites to the European continent. We have a role to play in this regard! Let’s not forget our many strengths! I’ve therefore announced the extension of the inpatriate scheme, which will become the most favourable in Europe.

Let’s also remember that France is not the same France as it was four years ago, constrained by its labour costs, its conservatism, its rigid regulations; foreign investors can see the progress that has been made!

We have therefore made a huge effort to boost the competitiveness of our firms, reduce their costs and lower their taxes thanks to the CICE [Competitiveness and Employment Tax Credit] and then the Responsibility and Solidarity Pact. Their profit margins have recovered; labour costs in the industrial sector are now lower in France than in Germany.

We’ve also reformed our labour market. The law proposed by Myriam El-Khomri, which was enacted this summer, is a revolution that will give companies more flexibility thanks to social dialogue and the primacy of company agreements. This means increased flexibility and responsiveness.

We are also taking action to simplify procedures in order to encourage innovation and stimulate investment through special tax measures.

These reforms are bearing fruit: on the employment front, results show that we made the right choices; that we were right to continue on the course that had been set. We have to continue this long-term effort, provide our companies with this certainty in order to establish, once again, a climate of trust.

We will therefore lower corporation tax next year: for SMEs it will be reduced from 33% to 28% on part of their profits. The Competitiveness and Employment Tax Credit will also continue to increase.

This will not compromise efforts to reduce our public debt – which fell from 5.1% in 2011 to 3.6% in 2015. It will be reduced to less than 3% in 2017. This is necessary in order to ensure that France retains its full financial sovereignty.

A more attractive French economy, with more vibrant cities and regions, providing more opportunities and infrastructure – this is the theme you’ve chosen for your meeting: diplomacy and the regions.

We conducted an ambitious reform of France’s administrative regions; there are now 13 major regions with strengthened competencies in terms of economic development and employment. They will be driving forces.

From 1 January, each of these regions will include at least one major city – this is a key factor in ensuring the appeal of our regions, making them more easily identifiable. These major cities – laboratories for urban innovation, crossroads of mobility, academic melting pots, decision-making centres – will showcase French excellence. We will give them all the tools necessary to enhance their profile at the European and global level.

Finally, we are tackling the issue of tourism, and all of you have a role to play.
Let’s be clear: the attacks, the image conveyed by strikes, and last spring’s demonstrations undermined many of the efforts that had been made, as confirmed by the latest tourism figures.

Against a backdrop of growing competition, we must therefore get to work immediately on regaining lost ground.

I will soon convene an interministerial committee that will establish measures – currently being prepared by Jean-Marc Ayrault and Mathias Fekl – to revive tourism. And I ask you to immediately begin stepping up the number of initiatives in your countries of residence to persuade foreign tourists to return to France.

Promoting France also means demonstrating our ability to host major events.
Euro 2016 offered a spectacular illustration of this, and we have submitted Paris’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. Here, too, we need everybody’s active involvement. Such a bid should motivate the nation as a whole, including you, its representatives, and the French community abroad, who do so much to promote France’s assets.
We are also very actively involved in laying the groundwork for France’s selection as the site for Expo 2025. Pascal Lamy, to whom I pay tribute, is leading the effort with all the various stakeholders – local governments, the City of Paris, the Greater Paris Region, businesses, the Expofrance association headed by Jean-Christophe Fromantin – to put forward a unifying project.

These are two major events that will help showcase French know-how; two diplomatic battles that you must wage, because in both cases we must convince 180 nations that France and Paris have the best qualifications. I, for one, need no convincing!


In the face of each of these challenges, France is being proactive, thanks to its assets and its rank as the world’s fifth-largest economy. Thanks to its culture and creations. And thanks to its military and its diplomatic corps.

What drives us is the same pride, passion and love for France.

That pride, passion and love of country is one that you embody on a daily basis. It is reflected in the extraordinary mission you have been tasked with, one of the most exciting there is: serving as France’s standard-bearers throughout the world and proclaiming our country’s universal message.

In the two years I have been Prime Minister, I have made some 40 European and international trips, probably more than any of my predecessors. You develop a taste for it!

On each of my visits, I’ve had the opportunity to appreciate the quality and reliability of your analyses. I have been able to see just how well our country is represented by the men and women who demonstrate their professionalism and commitment on a daily basis.

That’s what I wanted to say to you this evening, and I want to thank you with warmth, gratitude and friendship.

I wish you all a good Ambassadors’ Week and a safe trip back to your respective countries.

(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.
(2) police searches which are ordered by an administrative authority, not the State Prosector.
(3) a database containing names of people reported in the context of preventing terrorism and radicalization.